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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Christian Mystery
GA 97

XXV. The Supersensible Brought to Expression in the Music of Parsifal

16 January 1907, Kassel,

Here, where my hopes and dreams found peace, let me name this house ‘Wahnfried’ [hopes and dreams at peace]. 195See Kleeberg L. Wege und Worte. Erinnerungen an Rudolf Steiner aus Tagebüchern und Briefen. 2. Aufl. S. 134 ff. Stuttgart 1961.

These are the words Richard Wagner wrote for the house he had built in Bayreuth. The house brought fulfilment of a deep longing. To him, all of life had been endeavour, hopes and dreams. Peace came to his hopes and dreams with his occultist dramatic work Parsifal.

People generally believe that when a work of art such as Wagner's Parsifal is produced, all the thoughts that may be found in it have been deliberately put in by the artist. That, however, is not the way a mystic will ever consider a work he has created. A plant also does not know the laws which the botanist discovers when he studies it. Invisible powers were hovering above Richard Wagner. The occult contents of Parsifal come from them. Much of the process we call ‘occult training’ lived in Wagner. Wonderful things may be discovered by following the development of someone throughout his life. You can observe truths dawning in his mind that were systematically nurtured in occult centres for centuries.

Let us consider the way in which the secrets that later came instinctively to Wagner were presented to the pupils at occult centres. All kinds of physical and mental exercises were done and this intimately shaped their faculty of occult vision. The teacher would above all awaken a basic mood in the student that would give him an intimate relationship to the natural world that surrounded him. The pupil would be guided through the realms of nature and taught to approach nature inwardly in the same way we approach human beings. Seeing a smile we surmise a cheerful mood of soul, tears are to us another specific inner response. The pupil would be shown how to perceive correspondences between physiognomy and soul life also in the natural world. An occultist is someone for whom these things become very real in his inner life. Looking at the natural world, the pupil would be told: ‘All is physiognomy, reflecting something that is of the spirit.’ A plant in brilliant colours would be the smiling mien of the earth spirit to him, another the sorrowful mien of the earth spirit. An occultist thus takes emotional impressions with him through all parts of the world.

A crystal chastely lets light pass through itself. Here matter is free from desire and longings. Human substance is more perfect, but it is full of pleasure and pain, desire and passion. The day will come when human substance will be as chaste and precious as that of a crystal. The pupil's heart and mind would be attuned to finding images in looking at the world of nature, showing how the flesh would develop at a future time. Objects in the outside world are seen as expressions of the world's soul by the occultist, and this is just as objective as the spatial forms a mathematician is able to visualize. And just as it is impossible for two mathematicians to teach different things about a theorem, so it is impossible for two individuals who have gained access to higher knowledge to have different inner responses. Mystical things are beyond dispute, just as mathematical concepts are.

When a pupil had practised like this and was then found ready for it, another idea would be presented to him. He was introduced to something that was the most beautiful and most pure and yet also the most questionable. He would be told: ‘Look at the plant. The chalice of its corolla faces the sun. The sunbeam influences its growth and maintains it. It presents its reproductive organs to the sun in a chaste way. These parts, kept hidden in shame by man and animal, are chastely turned towards the sun in the plant. Now look back into the far distant past. Then man, too, was at the stage at which the plant has remained. Then he, too, had his reproductive organ facing the sun. The head, the root, was in the soil. Mystics have always known that man is an inverted plant. Only he developed further in the course of evolution, first becoming horizontal, like the animal, and then assuming the upright form human beings have today. He went through the plant realm and the animal realm to reach the human realm. Plato referred to this when he said that the world's soul has been crucified on the world's body.’ Man has not yet come to the end of his evolution, however. He is in a transitional stage where he must overcome desire and reach a higher spirituality. Desire must be overcome in the part he turns away from the sun, winning through to a higher spirituality. Then man will offer the chalice of his essential nature to the higher spiritual sun as purely and chastely as the plant does.

This ideal of the plant's chalice made spiritual was presented to those who were pupils of the Holy Grail. They were told that the holy chalice was the plant corolla which had gone through the sphere of animal life and had then been purified again and made spiritual. The words spoken to the pupil were: ‘The potential for this chalice, which takes the rays of the spiritual sun into itself; also lies in the human being. Man has finished organs and others that will only develop in future. In the far distant future man will reproduce himself the way we create a wave in the air when we say a word today.’ When the pupil had made these feelings his own, he was able to feel in those occult fastnesses how the power that sprouts forth from the plants at the time of Good Friday and Easter will in future also show itself in man, having been cleansed and purified. This sprouting growth was experienced especially on Good Friday, and people also felt that a pledge had been given with Christ's sacrificial death that man might have the possibility of gaining possession of the Holy Grail through his struggles. The sap that is the blood of Christ makes man pure, just as the plant has pure sap flowing through it. This was something the pupils experienced at the most solemn moments. The thought of redemption arose clearly before them when they had their inner experience of the relationship between Christ's sacrificial death and the sprouting plant. This idea came to be ever present for Richard Wagner. Wagner used the figure of Alberich to represent the birth of the I and of egotism. He used the E flat organ pedal for this. 196In the Rheingold prelude.

In 1856 he tried to give form to the riddle of life on earth in a play called The Victors. A youth was loved by a girl belonging to the lowest caste in India. The difference in their castes made him turn away from the girl and become a pupil of Buddha. The pain this gave to the girl was so great that she realized that she had been a Brahman in an earlier life who had refused the hand of a low-caste girl. This is how Wagner was searching for a way of helping people to understand cosmic thought.

In 1857 Richard Wagner was standing outside the Villa Wesendonk near Zurich and looking out upon the Lake of Zurich and the countryside. Seeing the sprouting plants he came to see the relationship between redemption and plant life. A basic feeling for the ideal of the chalice came to him, an ideal the followers of the grail had always known. Later he tried to find the music that would express the evolution that leads from plant chalice to grail chalice. And he then found peace in his hopes and dreams.

The Parsifal idea has always been part of more recent culture, lying hidden in it as a seed. In his poem The Secrets, Goethe wrote of a youth walking through the woods to a monastery where he was received into the community of initiates. This youth seems like a Parsifal on his way to the grail castle. Asked about the poem by a group of students, Goethe explained that there are many different religious views in the world. Each of the twelve men whom Brother Mark found in the monastery was the representative of one of them, and the thirteenth among them was their leader.

Goethe was representing the occult lodge in his poem where there are no disputes over different opinions but only love. On reaching the monastery the young man saw a cross above the entrance with roses wound around it. He asked: ‘Who has made roses the companions of the cross?’ The sign of the rose cross expresses a thought that is part of the whole of world evolution. Someone who understands the ideal and the symbol is able to find it everywhere. Ancient legend tells of Cain looking for the door to paradise. 197See Steiner R. The Temple Legend (GA 93). 20 lectures, Berlin 1904–1906. Tr. J. Wood. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1985 He was not admitted, but Seth was. Seth found the tree of knowledge and the tree of life intertwined. He took three seeds and put them on the dying Adam's tongue. A tree grew from them. That was the tree which Moses saw in flames, hearing the words: ‘I am he who was, who is and ever shall be.’ 198Exodus 3: 1-5 & 14. Moses got his staff from this tree. The great door to Solomon's temple was made of its wood, also the bridge which the Christ crossed on his way to the Mount of Olives, and finally the Cross on Golgotha. Those who knew of the grail had added: When the wood had grown dry and become the cross, it produced living shoots as a pledge of life eternal. The grail pupil would see this in the form of roses. Here past and future come together. Goethe touched on this secret in verses such as:

Tell none but the wise,
For the crowd will cast instant derision.

This is also the mood behind the words: ‘Who has made roses the companions of the cross?’ Wagner brought this stage of evolution most intensely to expression in his Parsifal. Everything Parsifal does has meaning. Nothing he does is superficial. He is allowed to be active in the supersensible world and does most at the point where he reaches the greatest pinnacle of his inner development.

This can be heard so marvellously in Wagner's last work. When we see the group of holy people gathered around the grail, and Parsifal who first of all kills—he shoots the swan—and then becomes the redeemer, we understand what Wagner meant with the words: ‘hopes and dreams found peace’. He had wanted to show that it was possible to reach in the musical sphere what it had not been possible to show by means of drama. Until then, music had only given expression to inner feelings. On the other hand people felt it was importunate to use the term ‘drama’. Deepest inner feelings begin where words cease to be. Wagner was looking for a link in musical drama. The spoken word was to stop at the given moment, leaving the stage to music. Without Parsifal, Wagner would not have achieved the ideal he strove for. At the point where he penetrated to the highest level in the supersensible sphere, he needed the most intimate musical element. He found the purest musical expression for this in his Parsifal. As an artist and musician he sought to show what lived in Wagner the mystic.